DC Comics’ colorful catalog of dastardly supervillains consistently keeps the likes of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman on their toes. Still, a villain doesn’t necessarily have to be “super” to be formidable. Some of the most intimidating villains in the DC Universe are individuals who don’t have any superpowers at all. Thus, fans have often wondered: which is DC’s deadliest non-powered villain? There are several qualified candidates.
Slade Wilson, aka Deathstroke the Terminator, was created by Marv Wolfman and George Perez for 1980s The New Teen Titans #2. Wilson joined the army at 16 years old and quickly became one of the military’s most highly decorated war heroes. He was assigned to a covert government fighting force called Team 7. After being fatally shot on a mission, Wilson was revived and enhanced until he became the ultimate super-soldier. In Deathstroke #0, Slade abandoned his military career and became the legendary assassin known as Deathstroke. Deathstroke is a genius-level intellect, skilled combatant, expert marksman, and enjoys rapid healing and decelerated aging. While more recent incarnations tend to push him to the “super” side of things, Slade Wilson is traditionally considered one of the deadliest non-powered villains.
Created in 1940 by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster for Action Comics #23, Lex Luthor is one of Superman’s oldest and deadliest adversaries. Originally portrayed as a generic mad scientist, Lex has evolved into a sophisticated billionaire CEO with designs on world domination. Not long after moving to Metropolis, he founded the multinational conglomerate, LexCorp. When not undermining the Man of Steel with his money and influence, Lex relies on his Warsuit to battle Superman. The most recent version of the suit was unveiled in Action Comics #957 and made to resemble Superman’s uniform. Luthor’s hand-to-hand combat training and a plethora of expensive gadgets make him a formidable non-powered opponent. His greatest strength, however, is his mind. Lex Luthor is the smartest human being in the DC Universe.
The Joker was created by Bill Finger and Bob Kane for Batman #1 also in 1940. Speculation about exactly who the Joker is and where he came from could fill several articles this length. All that’s truly known about the Joker is that he fell into a vat of toxic chemicals which left his skin as white as his ever-present smile. Batman: Three Jokers #3 recently revealed that the Joker had a wife and child who faked their own deaths to get away from his insanity and abuse. Bruce Wayne and the Gotham Police Department know their whereabouts, meaning Batman knows Joker’s true identity even if readers don’t. Joker’s exposure to toxic chemicals granted him resistance to pain and immunity to the Joker Venom. He is a skilled fighter and brilliant tactician. However, his demented genius is often also his downfall.
Dr. Harleen Quinzel, aka Harley Quinn, was created for Batman: The Animated Series in 1992 and quickly transferred to comics. Harley’s character has changed dramatically in her short existence, having evolved from Joker’s psychiatrist to his girlfriend to stand-alone villain to occasional good guy. Harley shares many of Joker’s abilities. She has an affinity for weapons and hand-to-hand combat and immunity to Joker Venom, having fallen in the same toxic acid as Mr. J. Where she supersedes her former mentor and love-interest is in the sanity department. Perhaps her higher education or psychiatric background has endowed her with a slightly better grasp on reality. At the very least, she can work in concert with team members from the Suicide Squad without killing them. Mostly.
While the aforementioned villains are not the only non-powered bad guys in DC Comics, they are among the most lethal. That said, one of the candidates stands a hairless-head-and-shoulders above the rest: Lex Luthor is the deadliest non-powered villain in DC Comics. Lex Luthor encapsulates and improves upon all the best aspects of his fellow antagonists. With the aid of his income and intellect, Lex is as lethal as Deathstroke, as smart as Dr. Quinzel, and sometimes as crazy as the Joker. Moreover, Luthor has to be a step ahead of all the other baddies to try and take down the greatest superhero of all time: Superman.